Kerala’s plantation sector headed for turmoil

Thiruvananthapuram, Oct 21 (IANS) Mounting costs of producing tea, rubber, cardamom and coffee and the low prices the yield fetches is severely affecting the plantation sector in Kerala, an official of the planters’ organisation said on Wednesday.

B.K. Ajith, secretary of the Association of Planters Kerala (APK) – an umbrella organization of planters of tea, rubber, cardamom and coffee – said the plantation sector can go haywire in two months.

The group represents about 60 percent of the organised plantation sector in the state.

Kerala today accounts for 82 percent of the country’s rubber production, 71 percent of cardamom, six percent of the tea and 21 percent of the coffee.

The daily wages of more than three lakh plantation workers, who ended their three week-long strike early this month, were increased recently.

But Ajith hinted at other factors which lead to an increase in the production costs.

The production costs of cardamom stands at Rs.700 a kg, while the market price of a kilogram of cardamom is Rs.620, he said.

“Coffee planters in Kerala are going to be seriously affected as production in Brazil has reached much higher levels. There has been a currency devaluation as well. Thus, all cash crops in Kerala will be seriously affected,” added Ajith.

APK officials are also peeved that their long standing demands for reducing the plantation, agricultural and land taxes have fallen on deaf ears.

While Tamil Nadu levies no taxes in the plantation sector, Kerala charges Rs.700 a hectare as plantation tax. The agriculture income tax is 50 percent of the profits, while in other states it is 28 percent. The land tax here is Rs.500 a hectare, Ajith complained.

Similarly, the electricity tariff was increased for the plantation sector last year, he said.

“If something drastic does not happen, things will come to a halt very soon,” said Ajith.

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